Over-reliance on gas delays G7 transition to net-zero power

Three years ago, G7, a group of major industrialized countries that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, committed to decarbonizing their power systems by 2035. It was a historic and hopeful moment, in which the group demonstrated global leadership, and made a first step toward what needs to become an OECD-wide commitment, according to the recommendation made by the International Energy Agency in its 2050 Net Zero Emission Scenario, setting the world on a pathway to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

As we approach the 2024 G7 summit, the ability of G7 countries to deliver on their power systems decarbonization commitment, not least to address the still-lingering fossil fuel price and cost-of-living crisis, but also to retain their global energy transition leadership, is put under scrutiny. So far, the G7 countries’ actual progress toward this critical goal is a mixed picture of good, bad, and ugly, as new analysis shows.

via G7 Power Systems Scorecard, May 2024, E3G

Most G7 countries are making steps on policy and regulatory adjustments that will facilitate a managed transition.

Grid modernization and deployment is, for example, finally starting to receive the attention it deserves. Some countries, such as the U.S., are also starting to address the issue of long-duration energy storage, which is crucial for a renewables-based power sector.

Coal is firmly on its way out in all G7 countries, except Japan, which is lagging behind its peers. This is where the challenges begin, as things like Japan’s unhealthy relationship with coal risk undermining credibility of the whole group as world leaders on energy transition.

Despite these efforts, all G7 countries are delaying critical decisions to implement transition pathways delivering a resilient, affordable and secure fossil-free power system where renewables – mostly wind and solar – play the dominant role. A tracker by campaign groups shows that other European countries have already engaged firmly in that direction.

Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient.

Further gaps vary by country, but overall, more action is needed on energy efficiency, non-thermal flexibility solutions, and restructuring power markets to facilitate higher renewable electricity and storage uptake. The EU’s recently adopted power market reform provides a solid framework for changes in this direction, at least for the EU-based G7 countries, but it remains to be seen how the EU’s new rules are going to be implemented on the national level.

Overall: Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient. For one, translation of the G7-wide target into a legislated national commitment is lacking in most G7 countries, in Europe and beyond. Moreover, the chance of G7 countries reaching their 2035 target is at risk, along with their global image as leaders on the energy transition, due to the lack of a clear, time-bound and economically-sound national power sector decarbonization roadmaps. Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

For this change to take off, clear vision on how to decarbonize the ‘last mile’ while providing for a secure, affordable and reliable clean electricity supply, is crucial. Regrettably, today’s G7 long-term vision is betting on one thing: Gas-fired back-up generation. While there are nascent attempts to address the development of long-term storage, grids, flexibility and other balancing solutions, the key focus in most G7 countries is on planning for a massive increase in gas capacity.

Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

All G7 countries but France have new gas power plants in planning or construction, with the growth shares the biggest in three European countries: Italy’s planning to boost its gas power fleet by 12 percent, the U.K. by 23.5 percent, and Germany by a whopping 28 percent. The US, which consumes one quarter of global gas-in-power demand, has the largest project pipeline in absolute terms – 37.8GW, the fourth largest pipeline in the world.

This gas infrastructure build-out contradicts the real-economy trend: In all European G7 countries gas demand has been dropping at least since the 2021-2022 energy crisis, driven particularly by the power sector decarbonization. Japan’s gas demand peaked in 2007, and Canada’s in 1996 (see IEA gas consumption data). Even G7 governments’ own future energy demand projections show further drop in gas demand by 2030, by one-fifth to one-third of today’s levels in all European G7 countries and Japan, and at least by 6-10 percent in Canada and the U.S.

Maria Pastukhova | Programme Lead – Global Energy Transition, E3G

Most G7 countries argue that this new gas power fleet will be used at a much lower capacity factor as a back-up generation source to balance variable renewables. Some, for example Germany, incentivize new gas power capacity build-out under the label of ‘hydrogen readiness’, assuming that these facilities will run on low-carbon hydrogen starting in 2035. Others, for example Japan or the U.S., are betting on abating gas power generation with carbon capture and storage technologies in the long-term.

Keeping gas power infrastructure in an increasingly renewables-based, decentralized power system using technology that may or may not work in time is a very risky gamble to take given the time left.

G7 countries have got no more than a decade left to act on their commitment to reach net-zero emissions power systems. We have readily-available solutions to deliver the major bulk of the progress needed: Grids, renewables, battery, and other short and mid-duration storage, as well as efficiency improvements. These technologies need to be drastically scaled now, along with additional solutions we will need by 2035, such as long-duration energy storage, digitalization, and educating skilled workers to build and operate those new power systems.

While available and sustainable, these solutions must be deployed now to deliver in time for 2035. Going forward, G7 can’t afford to lose any more time focusing on gas-in-power, which is on the way out anyway and won’t bring the needed structural transformation of the power system.



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The EU greenwashed fossil gas. Today, we are suing.

Last July, EU policymakers decided to greenwash fossil gas. Today, the WWF European Policy Office, Client Earth, BUND and Transport & Environment are taking them to the European Court of Justice.

We are doing it to reassert a basic truth: all fossil fuels are dangerous for the planet. Only last summer, European cities baked under fierce heatwaves, rivers across our continent ran dry, and whole swathes of France, Spain, and Portugal were burned by unprecedented wildfires. In the midst of this devastation, the EU approved a new chapter of its supposed green investment guidebook — the EU Taxonomy — which stated that fossil gas-fired electricity is ‘green’. In fact, fossil gas is a fossil fuel that can cause plumes of methane that harm the climate just as badly as coal.

However, under the guise of climate action, the gas Taxonomy could divert tens of billions of euros from green projects into the very fossil fuels which are causing those heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. This is while scientific experts at the International Energy Agency and the United Nations continue to stress that we must halt any expansion of fossil fuels and invest exclusively in developing clean energy sources. Even the EU’s own experts have said we must use much less gas by 2030. The gas Taxonomy is not just at odds with the science: it also flies in the face of market dynamics. Renewable investments across the world reached $500 billion last year, which shows that there is already a massive, readily available alternative to gas-fired power.

For all these reasons, having previously filed a request for the Commission to review the gas Taxonomy, we are filing a case at the CJEU today. We will argue that the gas Taxonomy, and the Commission’s refusal to review it, clash with the European Climate Law, the precautionary principle, and the Taxonomy Regulation — the law on which the Taxonomy is built. It also undermines the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. We expect a judgment within the next two years.

Fossil gas at the heart of two European crises

Europe faces two interlocking crises: an inflation crisis and a climate crisis. Fossil gas is at the heart of both. Had we decided to invest with more determination in renewables and energy efficiency even just 10 years ago, our continent would not have been so dependent on energy imports. We would not have faced such great spikes in energy and food prices, which disproportionately hurt our poorest citizens. We would be closer to meeting our Paris Agreement goals.

Instead,  largely due to decades of industry pressure — the gas lobby spends up to €78 million a year in Brussels alone — our continent has remained extremely dependent on destructive fossil fuels. That dependency must end. It is high time to direct billions of euros into installing more renewables more quickly, with a focus on secure, cheap wind and solar power. It is time to expand the technologies to back them up, such as building insulation, energy storage, and strong grids. And above all, it is time to stop the lie that putting money into any fossil fuel will help the green transition. That is the purpose of our legal case.

Policymakers and financial institutions beware

EU policymakers are increasingly inserting references to the EU Taxonomy into other policies. If our case is successful, and the Taxonomy’s gas criteria are overturned, any legislation tying gas financing to the Taxonomy would become inapplicable.

Policymakers beware: the Taxonomy is on shaky ground, and you should not use it to justify new gas investments. Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off. They may even incur steep losses if they have made investments based on EU policies only to find that gas has been struck out of them.

Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off.

Financial institutions also face real reputational, financial and legal risks from the gas Taxonomy. Fossil gas is excluded from the global green bond market. Leading institutions such as the European Investment Bank or the Dutch pension federation have openly criticized the Taxonomy’s greenwashing. What is more, taxonomies in several other countries exclude fossil gas-fired power, so the European one lags behind. Any financial institution that uses the EU Taxonomy to justify investing in fossil gas assets therefore risks direct, robust and repeated attacks on its reputation.

The inexorable public policy shift towards energy efficiency and renewables, and the plummeting price of wind and solar power, have made fossil gas-fired power uncompetitive. Investments in more fossil gas, even if encouraged by the EU Taxonomy, would quickly result in stranded assets and could even cause billion-euro losses. Financial institutions must guard against these risks by stopping their support for gas expansion now.

Finally, if our case is successful, financial institutions could find they have purchased or sold products mislabeled as ‘green’. They must be careful to verify the legal consequences of such an event, particularly for its impact on any climate claims they have made.

Our message to the EU

Policymakers and financial institutions should note that the Taxonomy faces four further court cases: one from the governments of Austria and Luxembourg, one from Greenpeace, one from the Trinational Association for Nuclear Protection (ATPN) and another from MEP René Repasi. The EU’s greenwashing is now being discredited from all sides – amongst scientists, in financial markets, and soon, we expect, by the judiciary.

Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

Victor Hugo once said that nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. Today, despite much fossil fuel lobbying, denial and delay, it is the turn of the green transition. Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

See you in court.



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